Owen Aitken with my two brothers Colin and Rick on the rock wall bordering the Brunswick River in the early 1960’s ….
I, Ken Aitken grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s at Wilsons Creek, up in the mountains out from Mullumbimby in Northern New South Wales. I was raised on a banana plantation amidst the steep slopes of rainforest and wet sclerophyll (gum) forest and occasional cliff outcrops. The creek we swam in was a very clear, clean freshwater rainforest creek with big deep pools. People now in the City, would give their `eye’ teeth for it as my father used to say.
Wilson’s Creek is about twenty minutes (about ten kilometres) up in one of the many valleys west of Mullumbimby, in the Northern Rivers area. With this time, came for me a strong spiritual love of Creation, Nature, Country Living and the Environment.
It was a hard and simple life with a Dad and Mum and three younger brothers (Gerald, Rick and Colin). My father had come through the Great Depression of the 1930’s. His father had died when he was only thirteen and he had had to leave home and fend for himself. He had learnt many lessons of self-sufficiency …. personally and economically.
I recently saw a DVD called ‘Liam’ a story a little boy called Liam growing up in Liverpool, England in an Irish Catholic family in the 1930’s. The Depression had just started and men were finding it hard to get work in the factories. Factories were closing down from lack of sales and there was no welfare at all. In the midst of growing tensions, there was a rigid traditional Catholic education for the small boy Liam.
There were racial tensions between the Irish versus English, prosperous Jews and grinding poverty of the working class. This poverty was all set all against a rising nationalism led by Mosely with his black-shirted followers (the equivalent of the German people who became the Nazis). The Unions were formulating their identity with a background of Communists advocating for promises of a better society with State-run endeavours.
People coped and made do with frugality and counting every bit of money and put up with a lot of hardship. Even the children worked part-time to help the family budget. Sharing and helping out each other was common. It was real do-it-yourself approach to life with a practical wisdom and innovation born out of necessity. The Government wasn’t helping them …. They had to help themselves.
I now have a better understanding of what Dad had to go through to survive by himself in this period with himself alone. The conditions of the Depression were felt in many countries around the world, including Australia at the time. Now I understand the cultural attitudes of frugality, communal help and openness to others and at the same time self-sufficiency, emphasis on innovation and practicality, a ‘no-frills’ approach to life and making do with what you have.
These lessons of a ‘do-it-yourself approach to life’ were passed on to us boys in different ways. They were more caught than taught by example. We could make anything for ourselves. As money was always tight, we would make our own fun and amusements individually and together. We would make our own toys and equipment such as billy carts, canoes, thatch huts, treehouses, American Indian suits out of cut and painted hessian, Indian ti-pis to match the theme, homemade chemistry sets and experimenting with electricity from torch batteries to name a few things.
In the 1950’s 240 volt electricity had just come up into the Wilsons Creek Valley. It was generated by the new hydroelectricity power station at the bottom of Laverty’s Gap which had built in 1926 to service the Brunswick Valley. The Gap was the junction between the lower Brunswick Valley and the higher Wilson’s Creek Valley. Water from the Wilson’s Creek flowed south behind the hills to reach the Richmond Valley and the Richmond River many kilometres downstream.
A small curved concrete weir at the Gap had been built which banked the water for several kilometres behind it in a long body of water. A narrow concrete race on the north side of the weir led down the through the Gap hills then dived through a tunnel through the hill to the lower water filtration plant halfway down the Gap. Water was directed by pipe to the township of Mullumbimby for domestic use. Excess water was run down the hill by a falling race and turned the turbines in the power station.
Electricity came to our farm in the early 1960’s from across from the paddocks across the creek. This meant we suddenly had a bright fluorescent light on the ceiling ….. we could see clearly. Mr. Walker was a bachelor man who lived in a small timber cottage nearby where the garage eventually was eventually built ….. about one hundred and fifty metres away. He came over one night to babysit us boys while Mum and Dad went out for the night. He was amazed at having such clear light as he only had a kerosene lamp in his cottage.
The former valve radio in the banana packing shed house which ran on as pack of batteries was replaced by a new benchtop radio running on 240 volts. Often in the afternoon at 5.00 p.m. I would listen to the ‘Argonauts Show’ and especially Enid Blyton’s ‘The Five Findouters’.
There was virtually no technology available as we know it today. There was no TV, CD’s, DVD’s, photocopiers or computers and certainly no Internet or websites. Electricity to the farm was a brand new thing ….. the first fluorescent light was a bit unbelievable.
In the 1960’s Dad bought an additional plantation off Mr. Brown nearby. It was a simple life of hard physical work. During my teenage years, I worked with my dad and my next younger brother, Gerald, in the banana plantation and packing shed. We always had several house cows, a dozen or so chooks and a very large vegetable garden on brown volcanic soil. Did things grow! It was a very self-sufficient lifestyle. Mum initially cut everyone’s hair with a pair of hand clippers which later changed to electric clippers …… short back and sides was the order of the day.
The countryside was quite different to how it is now ……. It then consisted of open paddocks across our land and any neighbours land ….. the grass was kept short by cows grazing in the paddocks. There were occasional large trees standing in the open paddocks leftover from the remnant rainforest which had been cleared in earlier years. Tree bands fringed the creeks which remained largely uncleared. It was an understood community principle that you could wander across any paddock or land of your neighbour. This principle began to gradually change in the early 1970’s and through to the 1980’s when people began to be more individualistic and protective of their land. As a result, the communal spirit began to disappear.
In the 1960’s, my brothers I and walked the three kilometres or so, up along the gravel road to the main Wilsons Creek road to catch the school bus into Mullumbimby High School. This was through open paddocks where there was a major problem in springtime due to the nesting magpies and pied butcherbirds.
The magpies had a nest down in a lower paddock below the road we walked along. They very protective of their nesting site and would attack us viciously. We used sticks being swung around our heads to repel them. Dad took a gun one year and shot them ….. they ceased to be a problem from then on.
The butcherbirds were another problem altogether. We only had to appear on the horizon of the open paddocks and we would see a small black and white speck flying towards us then it would appear as a pied butcherbird flying towards us. It would ascend high over us then dive bomb us at a fast rate. We used sticks being swung around our heads to repel them plus some yelling at them to cause them to fly off.
We walked in bare feet along the gravel track, carrying our shoes and socks up to the bus stop. Otherwise, our shoes would have been thoroughly wet through from the dew on the grass. On some winter mornings, there was frost on the grass going up the bend from the creek crossing. Our feet were a bit frozen going up the driveway until they thawed out.
My prior job before this going to High School in the 1960’s, was daily turning the manual milk separator for the milk and resultant cream. The skim milk was then fed manually to a weaned calf. The cream we used on everything from bread to Weetbix in the morning. There was always a dozen jars of cream in the fridge. Mum even occasionally made our own butter from the cream.
Dad had made a grinder from a combined electric motor and a hand-turned grinder. This ingenious labour-saving device reduced whole wheat into heavy ground porridge meal in very short time …. delicious with brown sugar, milk and thick cream! We would have worked of any excess fat in the work during the day or on weekends.
The daily work was punctuated weekly spending a day at church. I was brought as a Seventh Day Adventist Christian which meant keeping a weekly Sabbath like Old Testament Jews. This Sabbath was linked to a value for nature and the environment. In the Old Testament, the weekly Sabbath was a reminder of the Creation of the world in seven days in Genesis.
It was from this Sabbath teaching, I gained some wonderful perspectives. I now see these in a whole new light now since Harriet, my wife and I and many others left the Adventist Church in 1983. The ideas for the natural house we now live at Chambers Flat, grew out of my subsequent love for the environment.
In 1981, we built a unique natural house which people often come out to see. This is on our five acres of light open eucalypt bush at Chambers Flat, Brisbane. The house is largely of glass set into a post and lintel construction of 100-year old broadaxed timbers and sandstone walls. The total concept of indoor-outdoor flow, has a nice ambience to it and the design is unique and lends itself well to future development.
See this talked about on this post: 1. THE HOUSE
I also gained some other wonderful inner values which have endured throughout my life:
- To be resourceful, innovative, self sufficient, and independent
- To work hard in every thing
- To be honest, caring and respectful of others and elders with good manners.
- To be tidy and organised in everything
- Family: My parents gave me the best they knew how. This included a very strong sense of extended communal family …. both personally within the family then the very strong relational family and then the extended communal family within the church community …… a commitment to others and a strong desire to see people in need always included in that family
At times it was bit unpredictable as Dad sometimes was emotionally explosive when things didn’t fit his expectations. In that era you didn’t just get up and leave your spouse if things became difficult. You stuck it out and sorted the problems out in time.
For me, it is a unique time that was very foundational from a personality and character point of view. It is very much my account and my three brothers would have very different memories and would have had different focuses as per the description below …… we all came out with a difference in outlook on life even though we came from the same family:
Ken: I am more a lateral, creative yet practical thinker …. into natural things and the environment and was always roaming along the creek after new creek discoveries, trees, mosses and ferns etc. ….. this finally led me to doing a science degree at the University of QLD in the early 1970’s …. Then I ran my own business in landscape design and construction for twenty years from 1975 to 1995.
I ran a small business in upmarket landscape design and construction for wealthy clients around Brisbane for twenty years. It was called ‘New Earth Systems P/L’. I was an Outer Gardener concerned about Outer Sustainability. This Outer Sustainability was fragile and easily eroded, dependent on my performance and people’s acceptance of my work. Two specific posts of my past gardens are these:
- Greenmount Beach Resort … 28 years on from when I did the garden in 1980
- Sheehan’s Garden in October 2007 …. House and Garden in West End, Brisbane … 23 years on from when I did the garden in 1984
I thought of a landscape as a three-dimensional piece of space that people walked through. This space changed with time as it grew and changed with the time of day: shadows vs. sun patterns, boulders, colour, plants, trees, earth-forms, solid structures and water. These were the ingredients in a subtle flow of landscape design and construction. Rather an intangible product to sell and run a business with!! Out of this stage I built a structure for my life: my marriage with Harriet, business and our house plus we had a family of two children.
In 1995 I had a bad fall off a boogi-board in the surf at Peregian Beach (Queensland, Australia) which resulted in a very severe brain injury with a big bleed on the brain. I lost my ability to talk, walk and had a very scrambled brain. I was in hospital for six months. In rehabilitation, I had learned to walk, talk, and getting my very scrambled brain back again. I am now on a lifetime insurance Income Protection policy, CPI indexed. I do not have to work again and I now do some different things. The situation with Income Protection policies has changed too one when they only go for two years now.
Even though I have had a severe brain injury … now twenty five years ago in March 2020, I have moved from seeing myself and others as brain injury survivors to seeing the possibility of being brain injury thrivers. The outworking of this life is told in this post A life-changing situation and in my recent story ‘The Recycled Man as at December 2016’.
I went from being an outer gardener in physical gardens for wealthy clients to being a inner life gardener to hundreds of people around the world connected by the Internet., three websites and periodic e-mail broadcasts.
Gerald: a practical / technical person .……. more conservative than myself …… was always the one experimenting with electricity from torch batteries when he was a teenager …… initially with scissors connecting two torch batteries to light up a small globe …… he was always the one to help Dad repair the broken axle in the short wheel based Land Rover. After doing an apprenticeship in radio repairs in Mullumbimby in the late 1960’s, he then married Helene in 1973 …. then went to Adelaide.
Then he eventually went to Sydney to do courses in computer technical repair work for Canon and other companies …. he was very good at working in the corporate world. Helene his wife was busy at Kimberly Clark as a personal assistant to the manager. They are both now retired.
Rick: a creative thinker …. more intellectual than I was at studies etc. …. Went to Sydney to become a doctor ….. finally lived at a place at Culburra near Nowra ……. In the early 1990’s he became a Christian Pastor of a new church under the umbrella of the Apostolic Church ….. part-time doctor and part – time pastor …..….. married Diane in 1976. He now ceased being a pastor at Culburra and has moved up to Orange in NSW to be a doctor who supervises a regional area.
Colin: a practical / technical person …….. a bit like Gerald but far more adventurous in eventually running his own business (Collier Packages) in an individual sense at West Gosford north of Sydney, Australia ….. it is a business to supply individually designed machines to fill bottles in factories ….. married Leanne in 1985. In 2004, he is started with Leanne another company to supply jams to the marketplace.
Filling and capping machines are assembled from an extensive range of stock components. High quality engineering and design means we can supply a machine to suit a wide range of products with minimal delivery time. Collier Packaging Machines objective is to provide technical superior products at competitive prices and provide efficient service and technical support to all their clients.’
The one gift in life we all possess is an ability of having relationships with people in different ways ….. to creatively flow this ability into whatever context is at hand ….. whether business, the corporate world, doctoring the outer person or doctoring the inner person …. I think that is a fruit of growing up in our family …. very social overall with church activities etc. I still have wonderful memories of all the Pathfinder Camps and hikes we went on.
See the post: Pathfinder Club Experiences from 1960 – 1967.